There are those performers, not all that many, who can take the stage all on their own with an orchestra and maybe a dancer or two and keep an audience enthralled for an evening. Liza Minnelli is one of the few. In January of 1974, after award-winning successes on TV with Liza With a Z and on Broadway with Flora the Red Menace and Cabaret, Minnelli came to Broadway with a one-woman show, Live at the Winter Garden, a show that sold out its month run in 36 hours, and has since become the stuff of legend.
Listeners will soon have the opportunity to judge for themselves. The show’s recording has long been unavailable because of the inclusion of a medley from Cabaret which conflicted with the release of the show’s soundtrack album, which will be available for digital download on April 3 from masterworksbroadway.com and more widely from retailers in May. While there is clearly something of the live performance vibe lost in any recording, Liza Minnelli’s magical touch with her audience is apparent.
The repertoire is a mix of show tunes, standards, some specialty numbers written for the star by Kander and Ebb, and a song or two that would have been contemporary back in ’74. And while Minnelli is the kind of singer who can take a “mouldy oldie” like “Shine on Harvest Moon” and make it her own, who can invest a novelty piece like “Exactly Like Me” with the power of her personality, she can be less at home with some of the more contemporary songs. It’s not that her pop performances are inadequate; it is simply that they don’t quite rise to the level of her treatment of the music in her wheelhouse. Songs like “I Can See Clearly Now” and “If You Could Read My Mind” are well done and even exciting, but they are not the singer at the top of her game.
Unquestionably the show tunes, the standards and the Charles Aznavour songs show off the singer at her best. They are the highlights of the evening. There is “A Quiet Thing” from Flora the Red Menace and of course, the show-stopping climax of “Cabaret.” It is not strange that she has a special connection with the music of Kander and Ebb, but there is also that same kind of connection with the dramatic eloquence of the Aznavour pieces, “And I in My Chair” and “There is a Time.” They give the star an opportunity to show her acting chops. The Edith Piaf/Fred Ebb composition “The Circle” stands out in much the same way. “More than You Know” and “It Had to Be You” show what she can do with a standard, and “Shine on Harvest Moon” gets the audience standing. This is Liza at her unmatchable best.
The new release features three previously unreleased encores not originally included in the song list for the show’s Winter Garden run: Stevie Wonder’s “You and I,” “My Shining Hour,” and the above mentioned “It Had to Be You.” Altogether, including the overture, the album has 17 tracks put together for the singer by Kander and Ebb. The musical coordinator was Marvin Hamlisch. “The thing about doing a show like Liza is that every song means something,” Minnelli explains. “Fred and John were so brilliant at building a show, plus I had Marvin, so we tried all kinds of different rundowns and finally came up with what you hear on the album, and thank God it worked! But you keep trying, and don’t get satisfied with anything but the best.”